Anytime you begin the NFL Draft without a first- or second-round pick, it will be challenging to add impact players. However, many teams still come away with talent in late Day 2 and into Day 3.
One team that didn't have a pick in the first or second round is the San Francisco 49ers, thanks to their trades involving moving up for quarterback Trey Lance in the 2021 NFL Draft and for running back Christian McCaffrey. The team also didn't have a fourth-round selection this year. Still, with three third-round picks, the 49ers had a chance to improve somewhere, but they missed the mark.
The 49ers have shown that they know how to draft well late, bringing in quarterback Brock Purdy as Mr. Irrelevant. Still, as we stand here today before the season begins, the 49ers look like the team with the worst draft, at least on paper.
Below, we'll walk through each pick and analyze them.
Round 3: Ji'Ayir Brown, Safety, Penn State (87th Overall)
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Of the 49ers' draft picks, this was perhaps their best (and first) one. Getting Ji'Ayir Brown at 87th overall is decent value for a safety who can play in the box, in the slot and deep safety. Over the last two seasons, Brown hauled in 10 interceptions.
While versatile, Brown's biggest flaw is the way he pursues players. As a safety, if you pursue someone from the wrong angle, they'll blow by you and take it to the house since you're the last line of defense.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan will certainly have a role for him on the defense, but likely not one with him as preventing a touchdown.
Penn State S Ji?Ayir Brown is a baller
? 10 interceptions in the last two years
? Violent hitter who can come downfield quick
? Always seems to come down with the ball/big plays
? A high energy leader type DB
— Jared Tokarz (@JaredNFLDraft) April 24, 2023
Round 3: Jake Moody, Kicker, Michigan (99th Overall)
OK, what are we doing here?
Was kicker technically a need with Zane Gonzalez on the roster? Not really. Yes, Jake Moody was a fine kicker at Michigan. He never missed an extra point and has a career field goal percentage of 82.1%, but why not wait until the sixth or seventh or sign an undrafted guy?
At this point in the draft, there were several offensive linemen to bring in as depth pieces, including Nick Saldiveri, Blake Freeland and more. As for defensive depth, the 49ers could've had Kelee Ringo.
The last time a kicker was drafted in the third round or higher was Roberto Aguayo in the second round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016. He made 22 field goals and missed nine that season and never played in the league again. 'Nuff said.
Round 3: Cameron Latu, Tight End, Alabama (101st Overall)
Another head-scratching move here. While Cameron Latu has great size at 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds, he has a career 11.1% drop rate. What makes the drops more maddening is that he can make some fun plays now and then.
On a roster with George Kittle and Ross Dwelley, sure, Latu can fight for TE2 or TE3 snaps, but there were arguably better selections on the board for the same position. The 49ers also had a chance to use their first third-round selection on Darnell Washington and could've likely still gotten Brown here.
Latu isn't a bad player, but the ceiling is limited for a Kittle backup. He might be used primarily for blocking.
Check out this 3 play sequence by Cameron Latu:
He gets flipped by the DB, but ends up getting the last laugh. pic.twitter.com/yWXukEiCbQ
— Eric Price (@BayAreaBaller18) May 1, 2023
Round 5: Darrell Luter Jr., Cornerback, South Alabama (155th Overall)
Darrell Luter Jr. was much better in 2021 than he was in 2022. Here in the fifth round, this isn't a bad selection by any means — as Luter is an OK player with decent length and speed — but he can definitely be beaten deep if matched up against a faster receiver.
As a depth piece, Luter will be fine in zone schemes.
Round 5: Robert Beal Jr., Edge, Georgia (173rd Overall)
It's hard to knock selections this late, especially for a guy like Robert Beal Jr., who's likely going to live on special teams in the NFL. He had just 10 starts at Georgia and didn't win on his pass rushes as much as you'd like.
Going to the 49ers could help his development to become an edge rusher, and his 7-foot wingspan should help — but again, he is nothing more than a special teamer right now.
Round 6: Dee Winters, Linebacker, TCU (216th Overall)
With their lone pick in the sixth round, the 49ers took a linebacker who missed 16% of his tackles last season with TCU.
To be fair, at this point in the draft, you're looking for perhaps a trait or two that a guy has, and Dee Winters certainly has speed, ranking in the 94th percentile among linebackers in the 40-yard dash.
It's hard to imagine a role for him besides blitzing or special teams with the 49ers.
Round 7: Brayden Willis, Tight End, Oklahoma (247th Overall)
Going back to one or two traits, Brayden Willis will be mainly available for blocking only if he makes the team. This could be valuable for the 49ers, and Willis had 381 plays blocking for rushes at Oklahoma last season.
But it is difficult seeing the team pass up guys here such as Moro Ojomo, Eli Ricks, Andre Carter II or Ivan Pace Jr.
Round 7: Ronnie Bell, Wide Receiver, Michigan (253rd Overall)
Ronnie Bell is an OK athlete, posting 83rd percentile in the vertical and 76th percentile in the 10-yard split.
However, he doesn't have blazing speed with a 4.54 40-yard dash and can't really get up and go for runs after the catch. He'll be another fine depth piece or special teamer, but nothing overly exciting here.
Round 7: Jalen Graham, Linebacker, Purdue (255th Overall)
Jalen Graham played just nine games last season and missed over 10% of his tackles. However, he could be used in a role to take on blocks and play aggressively, as you cannot knock the energy he does play with.
If he makes the team and the 49ers can find a way to channel his energy and willingness to collide with offensive players, Graham could be a decent asset. He's not a man-coverage linebacker whatsoever right now and is undersized at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds.
As mentioned, you're already behind starting in the third round, but the 49ers just didn't really add any players who have a chance of being impactful in 2023. There are some bottom-of-the-roster players and special team adds, but seeing players such as Darnell Washington, Dawand Jones and more left on the board stings.
And, yes, drafting a kicker in the third round makes no sense whatsoever.
We give this trade a solid D, driven mainly by Brown's ability and Latu being an OK second or third tight-end option.
MORE: NFL Draft: Late-Round Steals That Fans Shouldn't Sleep On
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